Bob Baffert switches 4 Kentucky Derby hopefuls to other trainers

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Bob Baffert has transferred four of his promising 3-year-old colts to other trainers, which will allow them to earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby while the Hall of Fame trainer appeals his 90-day suspension.

Baffert transferred Messier, Doppelganger and McLaren Vale to trainer Tim Yakteen, who is based at Santa Anita. Blackadder was sent to Kentucky to train under Rodolphe Brisset. All four colts are owned by SF Racing LLC and others.

“We salute Bob for making the tough but necessary decision that will allow them to prove themselves as top talents in racing this year,” said Tom Ryan of SF Racing LLC.

The moves came four days after a Kentucky judge denied Baffert’s request to stay his 90-day suspension but delayed it until April 4 to allow his attorneys to seek emergency relief through the state’s Court of Appeals.

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards last month suspended Baffert for 90 days, fined him $7,500, and disqualified Medina Spirit for having the corticosteroid betamethasone in his system when he won the Kentucky Derby last year. Baffert’s suspension was originally set to begin March 8.

Baffert’s attorneys said they would immediately appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

“Churchill has imposed unprecedented unilateral demands and restrictions regarding participation of these horses,” said Clark Brewster, Baffert’s attorney. “Legal remedies on Bob’s behalf may not be finalized for several months. Therefore, the transfer of training from Bob to Mr. Yakteen will mitigate the losses – at least as they relate to these four horses – during the pendency of the Administrative Agency and Court proceedings.”

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stated in its original ruling that entry of all horses owned or trained by Baffert is denied pending transfer to “persons acceptable to the stewards.” It was not immediately clear who the stewards would deem acceptable.

Yakteen twice worked as an assistant under Baffert, as well as the late Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham, before opening his own stable. He has never had a starter in the Kentucky Derby.

Brisset, a 34-year-old Frenchman, works out of Kentucky and Florida. He spent 11 years as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Brisset has yet to have a Derby starter.

Messier won the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 6. Doppelganger finished second and McLaren Vale was third in the San Felipe Stakes on March 5. Blackadder won the El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 12 at Golden Gate Fields, earning an automatic berth to the Preakness on May 21.

At the time, none of the colts earned qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby on May 7 because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. He is suing CDI in federal court.

Messier is being pointed toward the Santa Anita Derby on April 9. Doppelganger is likely for the Arkansas Derby on April 2. Blackadder is expected to run in an East Coast prep for the Kentucky Derby. The biggest points offerings are coming up over the next month.

“The most important thing to me is that Messier, Doppelganger, McLaren Vale, and Blackadder – some of the top talent in racing this year – are able to compete,” Baffert said in a statement. “I encouraged the owners to move them, not only because it is best for these horses and their future in racing but also for fans of the sport who are excited to watch them run. I know that they are in good hands training with Tim and Rudy, and I look forward to cheering them on.”

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”